This Christmas, I found myself at home in Teasdale, Utah with a house (and guest house) full of mostly new faces, one of whom was detoxing off a heavy mix of drugs and alcohol. Welcome to my world. A new Integral Recovery intensive was in its first week. I had to cancel my almost yearly Christmastime visit to my weird, wacky family, all of whom I love and who are delightful in their own ways but often a couple of levels apart on the good old dynamic Spiral, or whatever developmental map we are using this week. It makes for interesting conversations, both spoken and avoided. I have as yet to take the bait in the “Obama is the Anti-Christ” challenge.
Anyway, I was working in my office and my charges had gone on a hike to Lion’s Head, a red rock wonderland about a mile and a half from my door. I was drowsy and decided to take a nap. When I awoke, I was in a deep funk. I left the house and drove to the local do-it-yourself car wash and began to wash off the accumulated muck that my wife, a wilderness therapist, collects on our Toyota 4-Runner when she visits her clients in the wilderness this time of year. Keeping our cars up is one of my domestic duties that I kind of enjoy and do faithfully. I think this is one of the biggest miracles that my wife cites, when asked her opinion on my transformation over the last few years of intense Integral practice. She starts in, “You should have seen his old pick-up…”
So, as I’m driving to the car wash, a feeling of sadness is growing in my gut and covering my whole body. And I realize that I’m missing my family and my wife, who is with her mother, and this is the first time that I have had to really feel these feelings. Before, I was just shrugging them off with the whole “a man has got to do what a man has got to do” routine, as I worked with the new arrivals for the intensive. “Man, what a Christmas,” I think and my ego starts trying to conjure a way out of this profound growing sadness.
Some wiser voice asks, “What would you tell your students to do in this case?” I answer, “I’d tell them to open to the feeling, be totally present with it, and invite it in as a long lost friend or teacher. So, I take the long way home and allow the loneliness and sad isolation to sink into me. It builds and I breathe and it builds… Then something that has begun emerging in my practice happens, my personal pain begins to shift into something larger, a collective pain, and I realize that many people are having this same sort of suffering right now, perhaps millions all over the planet. And, instead of feeling isolating and dreadful, the pain starts to become warm and somehow infused with light and compassion. I am deeply moved.
When I get back home, my group is returning from their hike and we go up to the meditation room for our nightly meditation. My sit turns into a prayer of gratitude for all the wonderful people and places that I have in my life. The day and the night that follow are filled with song, laughter, tears, and good fellowship-an extraordinary gift.
So, this is the gift that I offer to you: When pain arises and suffering comes, as it surely will, invite it in as a teacher and allow it to express itself in your body and mind as it wants to. Then go deeper yet and allow that pain to connect you to all who are suffering similarly in the world, past, present, and to come, and something very beautiful will arise, the gift compassion, which literally means, in the Latin root words, “to suffer with.”
With all the Love of God that was said to be born into the world this day, I offer this gift and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Holy New Year.